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Pictures at an exhibition


Pictures at an exhibition

 My time as digital image editor at Copy
Shop News is relatively short, no more
than seven years. I have had an existence
in exhibitions over nearly thirty years. My
introduction was as an enthusiast,
queuing with thousands of others at a
motorcycle show in the desperately small
Horticultural Halls in Westminster in the
early seventies. It was literally bursting at
the seams because the two wheel industry
at the time - caught between the demise
of the British factories and oriental
machines imported by concessionaires -
had nothing to offer its potential
audience, without the foresight to see the
potential, or the resources to develop it.

Now it hosts a massive annual show, at the
NEC, with six figure attendance, but it has
taken some rocky years, and lots of
political shinanigens to get it there. I had
some ivolvement there, as a journalist,
commentator, promoter and organiser so
I feel I can comment with some experience
on events, even if I don't have a lifetime
background in the digital print industry.

Exhibition organisers have a hard time,
even though, like estate agents, it's hard
to feel sympathy when things look good.
The dilemma is that in order to fill an
exhibition hall you need two basic things
- the exhibitors, and the visitors. To get
the latter, you need the right formula of
the former.

The compromising situation is that often
those who want or are able to pay may not
in themselves make up a creditable event
and thus be enticing enough to attract the
necessary audience. It's a question of
balance which all organisers must juggle
with.

In the case of the motorcycle industry, it is
very simple now, as a dealer there is one
major show which you need to attend.

The digital print industry is that much
broader, but the picture is much more
confusing, with maybe half a dozen
events which are significant and have
some interest, but for a busy shop
proprietor, the choice of when to spend
valuable time away from the counter is a
difficult one.

This is because all of the contributing
items of copy shop goodies come from
several different directions - not simple
print, but signage, sublimation, transfer
and all the many forms of placing images
and information on product display.

Few of us busy beavers have the time or
inclination to visit all of the advertised
events which might hold something of
interest for a modern digital print outlet.
It is necessary to be selective.

It will be interesting to see if the newly
titled Total Print World in October lives up
to its ambitious strap line. That's certainly
quite a challenge for an exhibition that in
recent years appeared to be tightening its
belt rather than expanding its girth. We
wish them well though as the industry
needs a comprehensive showcase.

It will need a leap of faith and financial
clout of some magnitude to draw all of the
many aspects of digital printing under one
roof, but it would be an invaluable
addition to the calendar. The cross-over of
information between different disciplines
is vital in the digital age as developments
in one inevitably have consequences in
another.

I have a bias towards photogaphy
naturally, but I have found one of the
most professionally useful events one of
the smallest. Nikon's Digital Expo is a cosy
experience compared to the open
expanses of Oympia or the NEC, and has
now become a three venue road show.

With more than just cameras and lenses, it
has additional support from Adobe, Apple,
Epson, HP and Mitsubishi to name
major players, and an essential part of
the programme is both practical
demonstrations of how to approach
digital photography, and really
informative seminars on practical matter
of image management and printing.

It's the refreshing mixture of trade and
public that works well, blending the
enthusiasm of the amateur hobbyist with
the practical knowledge of the hard nosed
professionals - a great leveller for any
trade exhibitor striving to find a happy
balance. It's a time when marketing
people actually do come face to face with
customers who have bought their product,
and heaven help them if the PR hype does
not match the purchasing experience of
the public.

I often think that an interesting exercise
for a digital print trade show would be to
bus in a load of average copy shop
customers and see how the men in suits
handled them.

The disarming thing about dealing with
the public is that, as I have mentioned
before, you never know whether you are
about to engage in conversation with an
out and out egg head, or a complete idiot.
Often deciding which is which may take
some time and patience.

The great thing about the unpredictability
of the general customer is that he or she is
never beyond asking a completely daft
question, too obvious for the specialist,
but which may in the answering provide
some gems of previously untold truth. In
the precious atmosphere of a trade only
show, no one would be so bold as to
suggest the emperor might not be wearing
clothes.

I could write pages, and maybe will one
day, of all the silly things customers have
said to me over the last seven years, but
out of them all on balance the challenge
of explaining or justifying a certain
product, price or process is character
forming.

As much as the impatience of print on
demand can be wearisome, the process of
continual challenge to established
wisdom and ways of working can be
constructive. It's a matter of finding that
balance and not getting completely
buried by the more destructive aspects of
the job, or alternatively simply burying a
customer.